OT: 17 November 1934 – Donald MacIntosh “Pipes and Drums”

The Oban Times, 17 November, 1934

Pipes and Drums

Glasgow, 7 November, 1934

Sir,–It is evident that the correspondence anent “Pipes and Drums,” which you have been good enough to publish, is arousing considerable notice among those interested in the advancement and progress of pipe bands.

The position of the Scottish Pipe Band Association is that the annual general meeting decides matters of policy and rules. The question of “time judging” was very fully discussed by the annual general meeting of 1934, and it was decided by a large majority that the piping judge should continue to judge “time.” One would naturally conclude that the bands are in the best position to come to a final decision on such a matter, and that if the position were satisfactory to the bands there need to be no further argument.

Apparently, however, some of your correspondents desire to learn the reasons which caused the bands to vote in favour of the “time” being judged by the “piping judge.” To begin with, everyone agreed that “time” is dictated by the drummers, but it does not follow that the drum judge is on that account the most suitable judge of time. Drumming is an accompaniment to the pipe tune, and the real purpose of “time” marks is to determine the merits of the speed at which the Pipe Tune is being played. The drum judge is less acquainted with the pipe tune than the pipe judge, hence the reason why the bands believe him to be less qualified to act as “time judge.”

The other points brought up by your correspondents I will deal with individually.

“Caber Feidh” is dogmatic about time, but is he (himself) prepared to play a march, strathspey and reel in open competition, and leave the judging of the “time” to the Drum-Major? He is quite at sea regarding the test piece question. The Scottish Pipe Band Association rejects the idea of a test piece for their own championship contests, but made no pronouncement for “test pieces” (either drum or pipe) for any other contests.

“Drum-Major Seton” says if the drum judge awarded every band the full quota of marks, the pipe judges are in a position to place every band in the contest, and as a result of this wisecrack he says, “Is this Scottish Pipe Band Association justice?” The obvious answer is that judges are appointed to judge and mark bands according to merit, and any judge who gave every band the possible number of points would be failing in his duty, and would be guilty of gross betrayal of trust. Did it ever strike the genial Drum-Major to reverse his query, and alter the position of the drum and pipe judge? The championship contests held at Sterling and Renfrew in 1933 were judged with one pipe judge undercover, and the same contests in 1934 were judged with all drum and pipe judges also undercover. So far as I know, no objections were raised by the bands to this innovation.

“Craigellachie” will not get many to agree with him regarding the stagnation in the drum sections. It is beyond doubt that pipe bands in general have improved tremendously since the war, and the improvement is much more pronounced in the drum than in the pipe section. At no time has there been such intimate collaboration between the two sections, and in particular between the Pipe-Major and his leading drummers. It is not so long ago since any two-four beating was considered suitable for any two-four tune, but at present nearly every band has a special beating for each tune, and this is as it should be. Cases of a good general performance being wrecked by over-dominance of drumming are so extremely rare as to be almost negligible.

“An Ribean Gorm” need not lose any sleep over the pert questions which he is anticipating. The success of under-cover judging will be one of the subjects to be discussed at the next annual general meeting of the Scottish Pipe Band Association, and “An Ribean Gorm” should see that the views of his band are thoroughly represented there. The pipe judge is allocated ten points for time, and presumably he would make deductions therefrom in respect of time which did not meet with his approval. This correspondent falls into the error of most of your correspondents regarding the drum and pipe sections as being distinct and separate units, when he writes of the penalty on the pipers of bad time by the bass drummer. The judge does not penalise the pipe section–he penalises the band, and this phase of the question cannot be too highly stressed.

There has been so much loose writing of drumming faults that I have looked up the results of past contests in order to find whether the condemnation was justified by the actual results. I am enclosing a statement showing the results of the most recent Grade I contest judged by each of the panel judges in order to make my point clear.

Possible points. 100.


  1st 2nd   3rd 4th
Dunoon 97 96   95 93
Inverkeithing 92 91   91 88
Renfrew 89 85   84 80
Crieff 89 98   95 94
Renfrew 92 89   88 88
Glasgow Police Sports 92 90   82 80
Inverkeithing 95 93   90 90
Dunoon 97 96   96 95

Each of these contests was judged by different judges, and the table shows the opinions of the whole panel of judges regarding the standard of drumming of the four highest placed bands. In my opinion, the figures show a very high standard of efficiency, and they provide a definite contradiction to the present critics. As a matter of fact the figures speak so eloquently for themselves that it is needless for me to add anything further respecting this aspect of the discussion.

I am, etc.,

Donald MacIntosh, Secretary,
The Scottish Pipe Band Association